MONDAY, Feb. 6, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Far from enhancing their value in the marriage market, a college degree actually reduces the chances that an American from an economically disadvantaged background will tie the knot, a new study finds.
The researchers from Cornell University suggests that social and cultural factors are just as important as income when it comes to decisions on marriage.
"College students are becoming more diverse in their social backgrounds, but they nonetheless remain a socio-economically select group," study author Kelly Musick, an associate professor of policy analysis and management in the College of Human Ecology, explained in a university news release. "It may be difficult for students from less privileged backgrounds to navigate social relationships on campus, and these difficulties may affect what students ultimately gain from the college experience."
When people from a disadvantaged background go to college they can become caught between two worlds, the researchers pointed out. Many may not want to "marry down" and commit to someone with less education, but at the same time, they might remain unable to "marry up" due to their upbringing.
The study's authors concluded that the chances of getting married will have actually dropped for these disadvantaged individuals in college since their background and their education level are so different. They described this scenario as "marriage market mismatch."
In conducting the study, published in the February issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family, Musick and her team examined national survey data on roughly 3,200 Americans. In reviewing people's family income, parental education and other social and economic factors, they estimated their probability of going to college and the likelihood that they would get married.
They found that going to college lowered the odds of marriage for the most disadvantaged people. Men were 38 percent less likely to get married, while the chances of marriage dropped 22 percent among women. In contrast, among the more well-off, attending college increased men's chances of marriage by 31 percent and women's odds jumped by 8 percent.
The researchers believe the findings can shed some light on the social barriers faced by people who are the first in their family to attend college.
"This research demonstrates the importance of differentiating between social background and educational achievement," said Musick. "Educational achievement may go far in reducing income differences between men and women from different social backgrounds, but social and cultural distinctions may persist in social and family relationships."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides statistics on marriage in the United States.